Nov 30 2008

Homemade Winemaking for Beginners

Published by admin

So – you have decided that you want to try your hand at making some wine. This article will describe the basic steps and some of the pitfalls to avoid to make sure your first batch turns out good enough to drink.

First things first – how much do you want to make?

I recommend at least 5 gallons. Why? Because beginning home wine makers just cannot wait to taste what they have made. In addition, 5 gallons is only 25 bottles. So you’ll get the batch finished, and then you will try a bottle or 2 or 3. Then you’ll wait a week and try a few more bottles. Sooner than later, it will all be gone before it has a chance to age and get really good.

If you just want to do something quick and simple, you could do a gallon in a plastic milk jug. The drawback is, once you have tasted it a few times – it’s all gone and you’ll have to start over.

With 5 gallons – you just might be tempted to let a few of the remaining bottles age. Believe it or not, the biggest mistake beginning winemakers

make is not letting their wine age in the bottle. The difference in taste is, to put it mildly, AMAZING.

The next step is to decide which type of juice you want to ferment. Grape juice, cranberry juice, muscadine, and cherry are all good starter choices. The first 3 should produce a rather normal tasting wine while cherries usually will give you a sweeter wine. Of course, you can always add sugar to sweeten your wine after it is stabilized and has stopped fermenting.

The next step is to completely sterilize all of the containers and equipment you will be using. Some people use extremely hot water, others recommend using a sanitizer. I like the sanitizer because you do not have to scald yourself with the hot water. The sanitizing solution should be poured over everything and should make contact with all surfaces. Then you just rinse everything off with hot water.

Put your juice in your 5 gallon bucket – that’s the next step. BUT – it’s not time to put your yeast in yet.

We first want to sterilize our “must” or our juice. You can do this with 4 Campden Tablets. These are sulfite tablets that will get rid of any type of bacteria that could be present in the juice. Crush the tablets and then dissolve them in some warm water and then pour them in your juice or “must”. Let this sit overnight while the sulfites do their work.

24 hours later, you are ready to sprinkle in or “pitch” your yeast.

The type of yeast you decide to use is really a question that is beyond the scope of this article. However, I’ll say that there are hundreds of different yeast strains for literally thousands of different uses. For our first batch, we can just use the bakers yeast that you can easily find at the grocery store. Later, and after some research, you will probably want to use one of the specialized strains.

Now – wait 7 days and watch. you will want to cover your bucket with a cloth towel or even put on a lid with an airlock in place. The wine will be perfectly safe during the fermentation stage because it will give off lots of Carbon Dioxide. The Co2 will protect your wine from the oxygen in the air.

Once the 7 days has passed, siphon off the wine from the bucket into another bucket or into a glass “carboy”. These can be found online or at your local wineshop. When you are doing the siphoning, you will want to get as little of the gunk on the bottom of the bucket as possible. This gunk is called “lees” and is made up of dead yeast. Wine that sits on top of the dead yeast sometimes can develop an “off” flavor.

Once your wine has been transferred into what is called your “secondary fermenter”, then you will want to put an airlock in place and just let it sit for about a month. There’s a song about this part – “The Waiting is the Hardest Part”. It’s true. Every budding home winemaker just cannot wait to taste the stuff – but – don’t do it. It surely won’t hurt you but during this month it is still fermenting. The wine isn’t finished yet. Be Patient.

After the month is up, you will want to transfer it back to your bucket, again making sure that you leave the gunk on the bottom. The process of transferring the wine from one vessel to another is called “racking”. Why? That’s something I am going to research for another article.

You are just about there. Theres only one thing left to do and that is to add a “stablizer” to your wine. A stabilizer inhibits yeast reproduction. In essence, it stops yeast from doing it’s thing. Part of what happens during yeast growth and reproduction is that it releases Co2 gas. If that is happening after you bottle the wine, you will get popped corks or exploded bottles or both. So – put in the stabilizer, stir the wine well, and then return it to your Secondary Carboy fermentation vessel. Be sure and clean out the secondary and sterilize it before you do.

Now, all you have to do at this point is wait until the wine clears. Gravity is your friend here. Of course, it won’t hurt a bit to bottle cloudy wine. But if you wait another month, it should be crystal clear. The clearing process is another subject that you can find a great deal of information on in other guides and books and I suggest you read up on this subject when you get a chance.

Bottling time! All you have to do is make sure your bottles are clean and sanitized and just siphon the wine into the bottles. Corking the bottles can be a little difficult and i highly recommend you get some king of corker. Again, these are available online or at your local wine shop.

Now – BE PATIENT and let the wine sit in the bottle for 6 to 9 months. The longer the wine ages, the better it will taste – I guarantee it. Happy winemaking!

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70 responses so far

  • Carroll

    Thanks for all the info. Back in the 70′s I made a batch using a recipe I found in the college library called “Southern Comfort” Oranges (and I think raisins) were used. I used the bakers yeast, 1 pound of sugar and I let it set for 1 month. Man o’ man, I couldn’t believe that stuff. It was more like liquor than wine. I’ve searched for that recipe and cannot find it. Any chance you know what it is?

  • raja

    you are my guide for wine making. long time i tried for make wine but lot of time i loss the money and time. but i hope your guidance will best result for me. so lot of thank you sir.

  • Jose Chacon

    Hello Mike, good article for beginners. I am just wondering if I should taste before \"racking\" the second time or just before bottling. what do you think?

  • Steve

    I have made some peach brandy that came out great. I downloaded your book a few months ago and have read it. Very concise and easy reading.

  • Michael


    I enjoyed the article. It is definitely hard to make just a gallon at a time. I began making wine just over a year ago. I make 5 to 6 gallons at a time. The first batch of 5 gallons never made it to the bottling stage because I kept “testing” it. The bakers yeast though can leave an awful taste and for just a couple of bucks a beginner can buy wine making yeast and make decent wine from the start.

    Thanks again.


  • http://none audrey

    This message is in reply to Carroll. She asked about the Southern Comfort receipe for making this wine with oranges and raisins. Were you able to find it for her? …..I also would like to try this. It sounds very, believeably, GOOD
    Please, Carroll, if you got it or are reading this, feel free to send it to my email as well.

    If anyone has this, or sees my message, please send a copy to me.
    Thanks to all.

  • diana

    Hi Mike have made some Peach and also some plum but they don’t seem to be clearing it has now been two months in the demi jon and i’m getting impatient . the apple i did at the same time has now been bottled and looks and tastes really nice but concerned that these two are heading for the sink if no reaction soon I have racked them twice and any more and there won’t be any thing left to bottle.
    Please help

  • Eric

    Mike, unless your wine is as good as your email marketing skills you may have missed your calling. Seriously, I enjoy your messages and your book has helped me get started. I now have three batches in process – each with a small difference in recipe. I am now deciding what I want to use as a sweetener and getting ready to bottle. Even before it ages in bottle I think it is quite good. Thanks for all the information you provide.

  • John

    How critical does the room temperature have to be in the first stages of fermentation? I found some changes in the alchohol strength.

  • Ben Nice

    Thanks for the info for years as a child I watched my grand pa make wine. I have tried and have failed till I’ve read your articles thanks again

    Your Fellow Wine Maker
    Ben Nice

  • Dinis T.

    Thanks for the great article; your expertise guarantees a great bottle of wine every time.


  • Darby

    My last batch of blackberry got a little sulfary but drinkable this is a great site, I like to be simple, thanks for the help. Its hard to wait 6 months though.

  • http://N/A Barry Austin

    “There’s only one thing left to do and that is to add a “stabilizer” to your wine. A stabilizer inhibits yeast reproduction”.

    What is the stabilizer?

    Great articles especially, “Sulfates and your wine” and “Sugar inversion”

    Many thanks


  • Sal

    Thanks for this easy to understand article. I would appreciate it telling us what is a \\"stablizer\\" and how to use it to stop the reaction.

  • Irmgard Jolliffe

    Iwould like tomake some organic wine, grow my own grape,s – do I need to put yeast & sugar into the grape-moss??? ( dot grape,s verment them self) many thanks, Irma

  • Andrea Stephens

    Hoping to start my first batch of wine next month (I have just retired!!). Your tips and instructions have taken the mystery out of it and I can't wait to taste my first batch!!

  • louise piche


    marylou in canada

  • Gladysfarrugia

    Hi Mike although we are into our third year of making wine I still find your emails terribly interesting and extremely helpful. Great Thanks

  • Pam

    Thank you so much! I am in the process of making plum, peach and grape… even watermelon wine… All from my own trees and vines… Yay! Thanks again for all I've learned from you!

  • Barbara

    Great article. I just made my first batch and haven't bottled it yet. My husband tried it and it is VERY strong. One glass and, well enough is enough.

  • Bill Voyles

    What do you do if your wine does develop an “off” flavor and smell from sitting on the “lees”?

  • Malcolm

    Hi mike this is my 5th year with my white grape vine ( it's growing in my greenhouse ) but only my 2nd year for making wine my first batch turned out realy good, I'm going to squeese my next batch tomorrow 25th October i would like to know how long should i wait before i put in the second half of my sugar last year i only put half the sugar in so it wasn't to sweet but would like it sweeter, P.S Thanks for all the interesting tip's.

    Mac from Staffordshire uk

  • Carla

    Thank you for the information Mike! I am in the process of making my first muscadine wine from grapes. It has been a great experience so far and I have tasted the wine throughout the process. I am now in the clearing stage. My wine has a little bit of a bite to it, and I am not sure if it is from the alcohol or if I let it set in the lees longer than I should have. I can add sugar to sweeten the wine more, but not sure I want to do that. Afraid it might become to sweet. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Rick Gagne

      Hi Carla , what receipe did you use for the Muscadine wine?

    • Ksenterprises

      Just let it age, it will mellow, kd

  • CRW

    This is a great article. Thanks! You don't mention the use of a hydrometer? I'm trying Prickly Pear wine, but after 4 days it isn't frothing like the info mentions. Maybe it is not warm enough?

  • Tom

    You cant sterilize. You can sanitize thou with k-meta. Dont forget to degas to get the co2 out

  • Gomez2466

    thanks for all the little tips Mike which have proved invaluable as i have been making various home-made wines for the last couple of years. I tend to use either fruit growing locally or some vegetables that I myself have grown , such as carrots and celery , and even some potatoes I used in a home-made hock recipe I found. Just had some Tea wine I made from a recipe which didnt even require yeast and after 6 months its very pleasant on the pallette. Really enjoy your articles thanx Kev in Devon UK

    • Scorpio_fl

      how did the potato receipt turn out???

  • Ksenterprises

    What about adding sugar, or using whisky bottles or other screw on tops?

  • grapesplantingCassidy

    Ever since I have gotten into Wine tasking, I am so in love with all sorts of wine tastes. Great article nonetheless!

  • Aquarius305

    Thanks for the information. I just put a batch together, but forgot the Campden Tablets. the Kit didn't mention doing that. Can they put in at a different time?
    This article, btw, is going into “Favorites” to be thoroughly perused before making my next batch.
    Thanks again.

    • Drapra

           did you get a answer about the campden tablets.
                                     thanks Denny

  • J Rushe


  • Gk Girikumar005

    Thank u very much.I like this

  • Mksonksen

    I have two carboys of wine that is ready to bottle. I am thinking of aging them both for4-5 months in the carboys and then bottle in October. Any comments on this ? Anything special I need to do. I have them stored in a closed tote in my basement workshop so they will stay dark and cool.

    • Anthony Spinelli

      yes you can let it stay in the carboy,but as Mike said,add a stabilizer first.

  • chas

    I've just made 3 gallon of pinaple and 3gallon of yellow mango wine, the last ime i made it it was truly grate, but this time as i rackt it i had my breath taken away by the amount of citrus in it, some how far far to much especilay now the sugar has gone, Is there anything I can do appart from throwing it away, I'm pulling my hair out here x help!

  • Marshall


    I liked the article, but I do have a question. Can I age the wine for the 6-9 months in a glass carboy instead of in the bottles? My concern is with popping corks !  We live in two different houses during the year. In the 6 months when I am not around to watch the bottles (or clean up the mess if there is a problem), I would rather have the wine in a verticle carboy sitting in a closed storage container so if there is a problem, the mess will be contained to the storage tote and I can address it when I return. I currently have a carboy sitting in such an arrangement at home and am anxious to see if this worked out. Even if I do not have a mess, have I compromised on the quality by doing this ???  I do have the carboy sealed with a large baloon (that I sterlizied) so oxygen cannot get into the carboy and I have the carboy filled to within an inch or two of the top. It is also stored in a dark, cool location in the basement.  Comments?

  • Lloyd McLain

    Couldn't find your email so swnt this via oli email. thanks for the tip today sept 22

  • Capnray

    Great advice. This gives new winemakers a range in yeast selection. In 2010 I made a green tomato wine, using baker's yeast and a blackberry wine using wine yeast. The blackberry did clear quicker, but both were excellent after aging. I did a double fermentation on both and since I like a sweet wine, used a lot of sugar. I am currently making orange wine with bakers yeast. I use both chemical and “scalding” forms of sterilization depending upon how impatient or pressed for time I am. My mom apparently learned from Prohibition days, taught me to use a hose and an external bottle of water as an airlock and that is also an indication of when fermentation ceases.

  • B.Elly tumwine

    any particulars stabilisers for wines?

  • Pjcoker

    What is used to stabilize the wine?

  • mack

    I make good wine taste great the only problem I have is that when i rack my wine a few time's , then i bottle my wine and as it start's to age most of the time it build's sediment in the bottom of the bottle can't figure it out.   [  help mack ]

    • Bruce

      Hi Mack,
      Use bentonite to help clear wine. It is a powdered clay. Add it to the juice and stir thoroughly to mix it up. This should help clear your wine on each racking. After several rackings, there should be very little stuff in your wine to settle in the bottom of the bottle. Your wine should be nice and clear.
      Have a good day.
      Thanks, Bruce

  • Marsala Wine

    I love making homemade wine.  Very fun to do!

  • Peter Rodrigues

    thanks for the procedure which you sent me and I will be able to do wine at home without any problem.

  • Glennsieger

    Hi Mike Great info you have here but How do you feel about bulk aging? For me its easier to bulk age since I really don't have my wine cellar set up yet. But the wines turn out very well and are very clear. And the bonus is when i do bottle I know fermenting is done and don't have bottles explode or corks pop. However by the time I bottle the wine is aged 6 mos already and only gets better with age once bottled. I do make Tea wine that everyone who has some loves! That only needs to age two months but gets a lot better with age!

  • M. Thompson

    Excellent piece of information Mike, A fantastic guide.

  • Ironfacekilla

    i have muscidine fermenting right now!!!

  • Ironfacekilla

    i have muscidine fermenting right now!!!

  • Lloyd mclain

    I always get something out of your blogs thanks.

  • Lloyd mclain

    I started growing muscdines, check out my picture on my time line on fb.

  • David

    Hi I have just finished fermenting Rice and raisin wine for 14 days from scratch in a fermenting tub and I have transferred it to a demijohn. Just waiting for any further fermenting to complete then wait for clearing. Have I missed anything?

  • George Jarocki

    Hi Mike          George is waiting for the 5th of Jan. that is when my peach wine will be ready to sweeten and bottle Jan 9th.So far the best wine I made is grape using raisins and four shredded potatoes .Thank you for all the good tips..

  • Tampa Harvey

    Thanks Mike,
    Been making wines from different fruits following your tips for about a year. So far everything has been so good my friends and I just had to drink most of it and have bottled very little, but that ain’t so bad. Have some sesame seeds and wonder if it will make a fine wine. Any ideas?
    Tampa Harvey

  • jakferd

    With a six gallon carboy, should i use a 5gallon recipe or adjust to a six gallon recipe

  • Debrah

    Hi Mike..this is a good article. You did not mention the name of the stablizing ingredient. Also, off topic, I tried using inverted sugar made with lemon juice for my blueberry wine, and it now has a bitter taste. Should inverted sugar only be used for dry wines? Thanks!

  • Debrah

    Oh and I forgot to ask…do you still have to sanitize bottled/frozen juices overnight?

  • Debrah

    I have one more question…When exactly do you add the stabilizer? Is it after the first 7 days, after you rack?

  • Debrah

    Well I lied, I have another question! I know I should have keep my fermenting wine in a dark place from 74 to 78 degrees. When is it ok to store it in a cooler place?
    Thank You!

  • Marlene Fowler

    You are so right the waiting is the hardest thing to do, you keep wondering if it is going to taste good,, making wine is something I took up after my husband died, it is a lot of work and it has kept me busy,, Sometimes it is good and sometimes it isn’t the best,but it is just the knowing ,,i made this,,thank you for all the wonderful things you tell us,,I never even tasted wine before my husband died,,I truly knew nothing about wine ,,I still can’t believe I have learned so much.

  • P Ramsden

    After sterilizeing your equipment you should rinse with cool boiled water not just hot water.

  • Kirk

    I am making my first batch of prickly pear wine/hooch , ive never done this but I think I just read everything I needed too know !

  • carol

    i am making blueberry wine and the yeast don’t seem to be working is there something I can do its been in the bucket now for 5 days


    Enjoyed your article, new winemaker, drink it before it ages, oh well.

  • nkomba f m

    Mike, what I like about this article is that you are discussing the timming at each stage. This has been very helpful to me

  • Craig May

    So, in adding stabilizer to a 5 gallon batch, how much do I add?

  • IndianCreek

    I’ve read this article before and followed your recommendations with minor modifications to suit my situation with very good results. Thanks, Mike, for your help and many emails with other ideas.

  • KJ

    Do I have to use campden tablets, sulfites give me a headache, can I just skip that process?